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'From the cow crossing': Meet the small Dutch town that gave Vancouver its name

A replica of the town's castle was built for Expo 86

If you know a little about Vancouver's history, you likely know the name came from Capt. George Vancouver, a British naval officer and explorer who sailed through the area in the 1790s.

But that's not the whole story.

Vancouver's family name can be traced back to a northern Dutch town on the German border with very little in common with the Canadian metropolis.

It's called Coevorden.

It's from there that the ancestors of George Vancouver came; at one point they were the van Coevordens, which is essentially saying they were "from Coevorden." At a talk given in Coevorden by Michael Francis (a central figure in Expo 86) in 1986, he spoke about the name's history.

The name Coevorden originated from the Dutch words for "cow crossing"; it's not unheard of for towns to be named that way (Oxford in England, for one). And there is, in fact, a river at Coevorden, just like Vancouver (though it's significantly smaller than the Fraser).

So to extend the translation, Vancouver means "from the cow crossing."

The earliest reference to the town, according to its own histories, is in the name of a man called Fredericus van Coevorden in 1036. In 1407 it was officially made a city and for a long time held an important role as a fortified city and military stronghold (at points both the Spanish and French held it), but that waned in the 18th century.

Now it's a town of around 36,000, still with military connections (there's a storage facility there) and using its proximity to Germany as the impetus for a multinational business park.

For those thinking of visiting the town, a travel blogger suggests the museum and castle as the top spots to see. They put together a top 10 list for the town.

The community itself has plenty of older buildings, including a middle ages castle in the middle of the town. For Expo 86 a replica was built here, in Vancouver. It's now in Richmond, which is a whole different story.

While most Vancouver residents likely don't know much about Coevorden, the Dutch town hasn't forgotten the connection. In 2010, during the Winter Olympics, the town sent a delegation here to host an event and pitched the idea of the area it's in host a future Olympic Games (that plan was abandoned and L.A. was eventually chosen).

They also have a restaurant named after Vancouver.